Monday, 7 November 2011

Tubercule 2


Grab a seat, grab a Metro – it’s almost an obsession. A feeling of failure and misery descends if I fail to do either.

There was a photo in the Metro of Olympic diver Tom Daley looking at his clay likeness in Mme Tussauds. It was amazing - not a thing like him. The putty nose was a completely different shape to his, one being convex the other concave.

I wonder what kind of people work at the wax works what they are trained for, certainly not getting a likeness for portraits.

Opposite me a young boy aged about seven playing some kind of computer game on an i-phone with his father. They were totally concentrated but occasionally the father would get annoyed with the boy for pressing the wrong button and snap at him, then remember he was supposed to be playing a game and speak to him more gently. The younger son went over to join them. He sprawled on his father’s knee nearly kicking the bored, fed up looking man slumped next to them. The father told him to apologise and immediately the boy made a small involuntary gesture offering the man a toy tractor he was clutching in one hand. For a moment I imagined this dreary commuter taking the toy and playing with it happily.

In another carriage I saw a young couple with a boy of about three lying in a pushchair. The child had a look of pain and discomfort, wrinkling his brow and I realised that this must be what he does, how he looks just before he falls asleep. His mother leaned over putting her fingers lightly onto his eye-lids while his father began stroking his head. In a few moments he was asleep.

I am fascinated by these little family scenes. I’ve never seen a child being badly treated on the tube, although I have seen that on buses and in parks, when I never know what to do about it and I can’t forget it afterwards.

There is another kind of domestic group, headed by the braying parent, sometimes audible on the tube, but they tend to travel in 4 X 4 and family saloon, so you mainly see or rather hear them in public places.

Yesterday, 5/11/11/ I was sitting in a café in Devonshire Road, Chiswick. It was the kind of place that has real looking cakes and bits of filo pastry with spinach, where customers pointedly walk out if you start using your mobile. To avoid their disapproving looks I sat outside, looking at a free copy of the Times and listening to a well dressed man called Max bawling his head off at his small son Otto, aged 3.

"Otto you must listen to your teachers. Otto, we must see this, a new Leonardo exhibition starting soon. Would you like to see it? I am going to phone Granddad and tell him.

“Hello! Max and Otto here. Look you must come with us to the Leonardo exhibition it’s starting soon at the National Portrait Gallery…”

“The National Gallery,” I piped up from behind him.

His braying stopped dead. It reminded me of one of those moments at night in an Africa hut, or a long-house in the jungle, when there is a terrible racket going on from geckos, birds, bats, cats and monkeys jumping up and down on your roof. But if you clap your hands or scream, “Shut up!” There is a sudden moment of tense, shocked silence, before they all start up again.

“Oh, thanks,” he said and went on at full volume, “It’s the National Portrait Gallery. Otto is dying to go. He’s a precocious three year old who won’t listen to his teachers.” Etc etc.

I don’t suppose poor Otto wants to listen to anyone at all by now. I’m surprised he doesn’t go round in ear-muffs. I don’t think I had any teachers at all when I was three. I didn’t have to go down that tortuous road until I was four, and then only in the mornings.

Father and son shuffled off down the street, I hadn’t heard a single word from Otto, and I was left wondering just who his monologue was for, not Otto who plainly wasn’t listening, not me sitting behind him, or granddad. Perhaps it was for the people of Chiswick at large, part of a Chiswick symphony of braying, bragging and deep groaning self-satisfaction.

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